India Walton, W.E.B. DuBois and Cooperative Enterprise Development  

 by Curtis Haynes Jr.  Ph.D.

India Walton’s “East Side Agenda” for economic development and her Mayoral plan to support green job development, light manufacturing, worker cooperatives and targeted support for small businesses while operating in partnership with faith-based institutions echo’s the economic agenda of one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century W.E.B. DuBois. 

DuBois unabashedly studied race in America, and he provided solutions. 

In 1954 DuBois, alluding to the fundamental changes spreading across the world and calls for popular education and universal suffrage posited that more important than these was economic organization, and the way human labor would be organized to satisfy human needs. This second question he felt was so fundamental that all other questions of power and human happiness depended upon it. As I see it in this era of global disruptions, paradigm shifts and in the name of effective responses to continued poverty on Buffalo’s Eastside this is as true today as it was 70 or even 100 years ago.  

For DuBois the advocacy of economic cooperation for black Americans was one of the most important projects of his life. His research, conditioned by his concern for social advancement, led him to pursue the concept of economic self-sufficiency through cooperation as an important criterion for economic and social progress for blacks, as well as all Americans. He asserted that Black Americans should not wait to get their share of industry for he felt that racism would inhibit their contribution while maintaining them in an unstable situation: 

“my growing conviction has been since the [Great]depression that the fundamental problem facing American Negroes is securing a place in American industrial life.  I am certain that if they simply wait to get their share in any change of plan and reorganization of economic life in America the so-called race problem will show itself by making their entrance into this economy late and uncertain…  For this reason, I want Negroes to begin intelligent planning for themselves, not of course, for a separate economy but for the propose of seeing how far their own efforts can help them toward economic security.”  (From a DuBois “correspondence”) This call for Black participation in economic development continued until his death in 1963. 

Regarding Socialism – DuBois experimented with socialist concepts throughout his life. in his early years he dismissed them as stifling individuality and distracting from black American contributions. However, he also declared that the individualistic and profit-motivated capitalism evident in the broader society would also play little role in bettering the Black condition. Instead, he offered a “third way” uniquely suited to growth from within the Black experience. It was the “Cooperative Commonwealth,” an organizational model of linked cooperatives that would not only better the interest of Black Americans but Americans as a whole. DuBois recognized that the American Negro was not socialist. What was wanted in the black community was education, opportunity, decent wages, and a decent standard of life.  But racism created a handicap and segregation a divide, that American capitalism did not respond to. Instead, he suggested an alternative socialism, not a compulsory socialism, Soviet style, but rather a grassroots corporativism in partnership with government. His view – with government support cooperatives would survive, thrive, and provide opportunity. Without support they would fail. The Walton “East Side Agenda,” echoes this sentiment.  

I conclude with a quote from my mentor Lloyd Hogan: 

In sum, Black Americans stand at the threshold of a worldwide social revolution. Their unique history of suffering and struggle for survival places them in an unparalleled position to be exemplars to the rest of exploited peoples of how a new social order can be consciously fashioned to reflect the perfectibility of the human condition on earth (1984) 

Whether Walton or Brown – government partnering with the Black community, facilitating cooperatively owned community-based enterprises would be a beacon demonstrating to the nation and the world that Buffalo is ready to lead as an exemplar of community and governmental partnering facilitating ownership, opportunity and generational wealth for all its citizens, with special emphasis in an area of the city that has been consistently underserved – Buffalo’s Eastside.